The USA Cycling Pro Road Championships in Knoxville looked set to be a homecoming for the Human Powered Health team in many ways and with a stacked squad of eight riders, the most for any one team in the 121-rider men’s elite field on Sunday, numbers were on their side. Could this be a return to the winner’s circle for veteran and former US Pro Road Race champion Ben King?
The soft-spoken Virginia native announced earlier this month his plans to retire from the pro peloton at the end of the season. This trip, not too far from his home in Charlottesville, could have been a real crowning moment in a 15-year career.
“This is a really special race to me. It’s one I won in 2010, I was 21. It’s still one of the best days of my career. Today, I really believed it was possible again,” King told cyclingnews at the end of a four-and-a-half-hour work day in the saddle, which delivered an inaugural national title to his teammate Kyle Murphy.
“Obviously, I am thrilled for Kyle Murphy, he’s such a pleasure to have on the team and he absolutely deserves it, the way he rode here last year and today, it’s so exciting.”
Murphy finished third last year when his teammate Joey Rosskopf took the victory. This time around, the orange-clad ProTeam did not have Rosskopf, but still executed a textbook game plan with multiple attacks, sending riders in a breakaway and then in more attacks in the closing miles to vault Murphy to the top step of the podium.
King was in the mix all day, for 102 of the event’s 115.6 miles. He sparked an early attack that redeveloped into a group of seven riders, which eventually dwindled to just four riders before they were caught with four miles to race. He missed the podium by two seconds, finishing fourth behind youngsters Tyler Stites (Project Echelon) and Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadiers), who were second and third, respectively.
“I had a lot of strange feelings last night and this morning, this being my last Nationals and my last chance to repeat. I was really sick two weeks ago,” King explained about his emotional rollercoaster ride.
“I had an amazing day in the breakaway. I almost stayed away and still ended up fourth. It would have been cool to bookend it! I can’t complain, the team was incredible today and it’s so great for Human Powered Health to get a win. We had the numbers to play tactically, and we dominated.”
King earned the stars-and-stripes jersey as US pro road champion in 2010 in Greenville, South Carolina, having earned a bronze medal in the U23 road race the year before. At the time, he became the first under-23 rider to win the US Pro road race championship.
“I am going to miss it and still really processing it, since I’m so deep in it. I think I showed today that I’m not stepping out because I don’t love racing, because I do love it, but I love my family more,” a misty-eyed King concluded.
King began his pro career out of college with the Circuit Sport-owned Kelly Benefit Strategies-Medifast team. He then spent ten years with several bigger programs, winning two stages at Vuelta a Espaa in 2018 while riding for WorldTour-level Team Dimension Data. Last year, he moved back to a Circuit Sport-owned team, now a ProTeam named Human Powered Health. He started his final year of racing with a win in the mountains classification at the season-opening Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and, like much of his team, the US Pro Cycling Championships was his first major race of the season on US soil. He now plans to line up one last time in the US on September 4 for the Maryland Cycling Classic.
“I do not expect the Maryland Cycling Classic to be my final race, but it will be my final race in the USA, so in many ways, it will be my last opportunity to race in front of people who have supported me since the beginning of my career. It’s close to home so that makes it extra special,” King told cyclingnews earlier this month.
Human Powered Health lost two key riders in the run-up to Knoxville – defending road race champ Joey Rosskopf could not travel due to a COVID-19 positive and Knoxville-native Stephen Bassett, who took second place in 2019, was sidelined by a training crash. However, it was still a success of a homecoming, with a new champion, six riders in the top 20 and a fitting farewell for a past champion.